As we celebrate the Holiday Season, it’s time to update our Best Canadian Brokerage Comparison for 2023.
When I started MDJ back in 2006, I spent considerable time determining the Best Canadian Trading platform for DIY investors. That commitment has not changed over the last sixteen years, and with several Canadian DIY investors now on our editorial team, the best online broker ratings are now able to incorporate more firsthand experience and diversified data points than ever before.
Our Top Online Brokers in Canada: Quick Comparison
FREE buying and selling of 100+ ETFs
$8.75 ($6.95 elite accounts)
Free BUY of ETFs (full trading prices apply to ETF sales)
FREE buying and selling of 80+ ETFs
$9.95 ($7.95 elite accounts)
$9.95 per ETF trade
$9.95 ($6.95 elite accounts)
$9.95 per ETF trade
$9.99 ($7 for Active Traders)
$9.95 per ETF trade
How Do We Choose The Best Canadian Trading Platforms?
2023 is very different from back in the day when a bunch of dudes working for broking firms would gather around a counter in NYC, Toronto, or London, and yell crazy stuff at the top of their lungs while pushing reams of paper at an overwhelmed stock exchange employee.
Stock trading in Canada used to be extremely cumbersome and costly, with $30+ required to post a single buy or sell order.
Nowadays, Canada’s best trading platforms allow Canadians to buy and sell investments such as stocks, bonds, ETFs, and options, online – for really cheap prices (For example, our top 3 Canadian discount brokers enable customers to buy and sell ETFs for FREE).
- How Do We Choose The best Canadian Trading Platforms?
- Other Canadian Online Brokers
- Are These Canadian Stock Brokers Safe?
- The Ultimate 2022 Comparison of Canadian Discount Brokers
- Newest Surviscor Online Brokerage Rankings
- Who Should Use an Online Trading Platform?
- Frequently Asked Questions
- Day Trading Platforms in Canada
- Final Words of Wisdom About Canada’s Online Brokers in 2022
Our 2023 Stock Broker Choices
Picking the best online brokerage account for your individual needs and tastes isn’t an exact process. There are just too many variables involved to definitely say. “This is the Best Canadian Broker for every single person.” Hence, we go into great depth with our Canadian trading platform reviews, and designate each broker for the type of customer that could benefit most from using it.
With that being said, we have 4 ranking pillars that we use to determine the quality of each of Canada’s discount brokerages:
- Stock and ETF trading Fees
- Brokerage Accounts Fees
- Quality of Customer Service
- Promotions and Bonuses
Qtrade Direct Investing – MDJ’s Top Canadian Broker
After all of that anecdotal and quantitative research, we think that Qtrade is likely to be the best online broker in Canada, at least for most people in 2023. That said, as always, we’ll be paying attention to our comment boards and inboxes in order to implement any real-time feedback we get from the Million Dollar Journey community.
Don’t take our word for it… longtime Canadian personal finance veteran, Rob Carrick of the Globe and Mail says that:
Qtrade’s commitment to innovating additional value to their platform – while keeping the site incredibly user-friendly for both new investors and veterans – means that Qtrade has actually expanded its lead over the last few years. That they’ve been able to consistently deliver such an elite product – while cutting fees to amongst the lowest in Canada – has allowed the broker to continue to set that value bar higher and higher.
The only real competitor to Qtrade when it comes to offering well-rounded broker features for rock-bottom prices is Questrade. Read on to find out why we have Questrade at #2, and what types of investors might benefit more from the other trading platforms we review.
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||4.9 / 5|
|Customer Service||World Class|
|Free ETF Trading||Yes – Buy & Sell More Than 100 ETFs For Free|
|Trading Fees||$6.95 – $8.75|
|Current Promotion||Free $50 Bonus + Up to $2,000 Cash Back|
|Full Review||Qtrade Review|
Qtrade Direct Investing Pros:
- FREE buying and selling of 100+ ETFs
- Consistently rated #1 over the past decade
- Excellent Customer Service
- One of the best apps on the market
- Elite investor tools
- Ultra-easy account opening
- Globe and Mail’s #1-Rated Online Broker for 2021 + Best Canadian Online Brokerage for 2022 – Surviscor
- $50 Bonus + Up to $2,000 Cash Back
Qtrade Direct Investing Cons:
- Pesky inactivity fees (can be easily avoided)
- Not the cheapest trading fees in Canada for all instruments
For More information about Qtrade’s fantastic promo visit our Qtrade promo page or refer to the table below:
$5,000 - $4,9999
$50,000 - $49,999
$100,000 - $249,999
$250,000 - $499,999
$500,000 - $999,999
Runner Up Canadian Trading Platform – Questrade
Questrade is a truly-usable discount brokerage that has amongst the lowest costs in Canada. Questrade charges a penny-per-share-traded (bought or sold) – but with a minimum of $4.95, and a maximum of $9.95. Personally, I’ve never bought more than 495 shares of a stock or unit of an ETF before – but I’d like to have an account big enough to try it some time.
There are no annual fees (no matter the size of your account, though there is an account minimum of $1,000) and no fees charged when you buy ETFs.
It’s not like the rest of the Questrade package is lacking something major, it’s simply a tribute to how far some of the other brokerages have come, that we no longer rank them #1. The Questrade app and website have seen tremendous upgrades in the last couple of years, and the vast majority of people that we have recommended Questrade to over the years have been quite happy with them.
That said, there is no doubt that customer service emerged as a weak spot for the quickly-growing company during the pandemic. Several of the writers on this website saw wait times of over four hours for both the online chat and call-in options. Emails went over a week between response times at various points.
Of course, if you’re not the “customer service” type, and simply want access to a great platform at the lowest price – then Questrade makes a ton of sense for you.
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||4.4 / 5|
|Customer Service||Lacking in the last 2 years|
|Free ETF Trading||Free buying of ETFs (full trading prices apply to ETF sales)|
|Current Promotion||$50 in Free Trades|
|Full Review||Questrade Review|
- No Fees To Build an ETF Portfolio!
- Very Low Trade Costs (ideal for building a dividend-heavy portfolio)
- $0 Annual Account Fees
- 24-Hour Paperless Account Opening
- Globe and Mail “A” Rating + Best DIY Brokerage Website
- Good Promo Offer
- Solid USD Trading Options
- $50 in free trades for new accounts
- Better options online for those interested in doing in-depth analysis research on stocks prior to purchase
- Customer service rating took a real hit the last couple of years – the main reason we now rank Qtrade ahead of Questrade.
- Only 2.9/5 app rating on Google Play – reviews mentioned delay in pricing on app vs desktop
Most Convenient Big Bank Brokerage – BMO InvestorLine
Canadians aren’t really much for comparison shopping when it comes to their personal banking.
This makes the big bank stocks excellent investments – because the banks are very very profitable due to the fees they charge.
They’re not so good in terms of value from a consumer perspective however.
If you are absolutely determined that you must use a big bank online broker, BMO is probably the best choice from that group – but really the game between Qtrade and Questrade vs the rest of the field just keeps getting larger from what we’re seeing.
Even if you currently bank with BMO, it’s super easy to set up the transfer from any Canadian bank to either Qtrade or Questrade, and fund your RRSP, TFSA, RESP, etc. It’s really a small hurdle to get over compared to the costs you’ll save over the long run.
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||4 / 5|
|User Experience||Very Good|
|Customer Service||Very Good|
|Free ETF Trading||Free buying and selling of 80 different ETFs|
|Trading Fees||$9.95 ($7.95 for elite accounts)|
|Full Review||BMO InvestorLine Review|
BMO InvestorLine Pros:
- Best bank-owned broker
- One of the top online trading platforms
- Strong app
- 80+ FREE ETFs (both buying AND selling)
- Trust and reputation of 200+ years
- Great consumer education
BMO InvestorLine Cons:
- Higher fees than discount brokerages such as Qtrade or Questrade
- More suited towards large portfolios
Lowest Fees Canadian Broker – National Bank Direct Brokerage
National Bank Direct Brokerage shook up the world in August of 2021 when they announced that they would be the first of Canada’s “Big Banks” to roll out commission-free purchases of not only ETFs, but also shares of Canadian stocks as well. This was a crafty move by NBDB, as the online broker has struggled to make any headway in the past, and this has garnered the a unique value proposition.
If per-trade fees are the be-all and end-all when it comes to what you need from your broker account, then National Bank Direct Brokerage is definitely worth a look. That said, there are several reasons why the broker perennially receives one of the lowest grades in Canada from many of the personal finance authorities.
NBDB does not have a mobile app of any kind yet, and its online platform leaves much to be desired when compared to the well-oiled machines that our top choices bring to the table. Finally, there are no real portfolio analysis tools or investor information sources available at NBDB, so it really is the “no frills” option when it comes to the Big Bank brokerages.
If you’re wondering how NBDB is going to make money if they don’t charge any fees, it’s important to point out that they will charge you a $100 account fee if you’re account is under $20,000, and that they will make money off currency exchange when you buy stock in US Dollars, and/or when you “buy on the margin” (borrow money from National Bank in order to make investments). So don’t worry about poor old National Bank – they’ll still do just fine!
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||2.8 / 5|
|User Experience||Lacking – Bad platform and no mobile app|
|Customer Service||Mediocre at best|
|Free ETF Trading||Free buying and selling of ETFs|
|Trading Fees||$0 for Canadian or US stock trades|
|Full Review||National Bank Direct Brokerage Review|
- No Fee Trades
- Good bricks-and-mortar presence if you live in Quebec
- No Mobile App
- No Portfolio Analysis Tools
- $100 Account Fee
- No Sign Up Promotions
- Poor Overall Platform Rating
- Onboarding Process is Labour Intensive
Other Canadian Online Brokers
Even though Qtrade and Questrade are practically neck and neck for the title of the best online broker, and BMO represents the best compromise option when it comes to using a discount broker that Canadians are familiar with, that doesn’t mean they are the only viable choices. Luckily, we Canucks have plenty of good options available if you want to see if there is a better fit.
Read on to find out a little more about “the best of the rest”, including what we like and dislike about each of the other trading platform options in Canada. We also have detailed reviews for all of those companies which will be linked from the relevant part of text – so if you want to learn more about a specific one you can simply click the review link and get all the added info you need.
RBC Direct Investing – 2nd Best Mobile App (After Qtrade)
As mentioned above, all of the big banks trading platforms are quite comparable and could all be classified as ‘elite products’. The biggest upside is of course the fact that if you already bank with them, opening a brokerage account with a specific bank becomes easier and much more convenient. In that regard, RBC is no different.
RBC Direct Investing offers you the same trade-off as other big banks do – you pay higher fees and in return enjoy an excellent platform and a lot of account options to choose from. In RBC’s case, their biggest advantage is their mobile app, which has the best ratings out of all the options listed on this page.
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||3.9 / 5|
|Free ETF Trading||$9.95 per ETF trade|
|Trading Fees||$9.95 ($6.95 elite accounts)|
|Full Review||RBC Direct Investing Review|
RBC Direst Investing Pros:
- User friendly, advanced platform
- Fantastic mobile app
- Easy to set up if you bank with RBC
- Safe and trustworthy company
RBC Direct Investing Cons:
- Much higher fees compared to other online brokers
TD Direct Investing – Great Platform
If it weren’t for the fact they neither have an ongoing promotion, nor offer free ETF trading, TD Direct might well have been placed higher on our list. With the TD Webbroker, they have arguably the best trading platform in Canada – at least for desktop users. While their mobile app isn’t the best, it is also a very good product and overall user reviews are very positive.
If you already bank with TD, or if you know you are going to make a lot of use of their excellent trading platform, then signing up with TD Direct Investing can’t be a bad decision ever. That said, even though their software might be a little bit better – they simply can’t compete with the value one might get from Qtrade’s low fees.
TD’s big news in 2022 has been the rollout of their new mobile app, TD Easy Trade. It should be noted that this app is not connected to TD Direct Investing, and instead is an update of the TD GoalAssist platform that came out in 2020. It is more like a competitor to Wealthsimple Trade than a true online trading platform.
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||3.8 / 5|
|Customer Service||Very Good|
|Free ETF Trading||$9.95 per ETF trade|
|Trading Fees||$9.99 ($7 for Active Traders)|
|Minimum Balance||None – But fees apply to accounts holding less than 15K|
|Full Review||TD Direct Investing Review|
TD Direct Investing Pros:
- One of Canada’s most trusted financial companies
- Easy and convenient if you already bank with TD
- Modern, easy to use platform
- Good amount of account options to choose from
TD Direct Investing Cons:
- Higher trading fees, ETFs in particular
- Very high account fees unless you maintain a $15K balance
CI Direct Investing – Competitive Fees + Best Brokerage for Canadian Expats
Formerly known as Virtual Brokers, CI Direct Investing is an excellent brokerage option for Canadian expats who are now residing overseas. The vast majority of Canada’s online brokers will not accept expat clients, so CI’s broker really distinguishes itself in this regard.
It’s also worth noting that CI is one of the biggest financial companies in Canada and the brokerage has been in the business since 2009 – so it’s not a small newcomer to the scene.
While CI has continued Virtual Broker’s tradition of having low fees, it has yet to really catch up to our market leaders when it comes to the trading platform’s user experience, as well as overall customer service.
The mobile app in particular has been much criticized. The lack of an attractive promotional offer makes it even more difficult to recommend this Canadian broker to anyone other than expats.
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||3.7 / 5|
|Free ETF Trading||$1.99 To Buy and $7.99 to Sell|
|Trading Fees||$1.99 – $7.99|
|Minimum Balance||$25,000 – Only applies to non-residents|
|Full Review||CI Direct Trading Review|
CI Direct Pros:
- Very competitive fees, similar to industry leaders
- Best solution for Canadian expats
- Trustworthy and safe with a long positive track record
- Great fees and platform for very active traders
CI Direct Cons:
- Not the best product for passive investors
- Platform is overall not very user friendly or nice
- Pretty basic mobile app
- No promo offers for new signups
Scotia iTrade – Excellent for Traders Who Like Scotiabank
Like most of the big banks, Scotia’s trading product is an elite one. The platform is modern and integrates very easily with all other Scotia products so you get a very good ‘all in one’ solution for your financial needs.
Scotia iTrade is particularly attractive for those who want to deposit large amounts of money and be very active with their accounts. If you do that, then it somewhat mitigates the higher fees and the overall convenience and ease of use really shines through.
Scotia’s trading fees are higher than the top brokers on this list, but are on par with all the other big banks. The only real major downside is their mobile stock trading app – it got abysmal reviews and hasn’t been updated in a long while.
|Million Dollar Journey’s Overall Rating:||3.7 / 5|
|User Experience||Good, except for the mobile app|
|Free ETF Trading||$9.95 per ETF trade|
|Full Review||Scotia iTrade Review|
Scotia iTrade Pros:
- Great all-in-one solution
- Ideal for day traders
- Excellent desktop platform
- Well known and trusted company
Scotia iTrade Cons:
- Fees are much higher than other brokers
- Bad reviews for their mobile app
Editor’s Note: Still looking for more brokers? Read our reviews of HSBC, Interactive Brokers or Desjardins. All 3 are perfectly fine choices, but we failed to identify any field where they shine above the rest, and our user’s reviews weren’t stellar to say the least.
Are These Canadian Stock Brokers Safe?
The first question that most risk-averse Canadians have in regards to opening a discount brokerage account is: Are Canadian online brokers safe?
In short: YES!
Look, in a day and age when the USA’s top secret files can get hacked, it would be dishonest to say anything is 100% safe from prying eyes. That said, Canada’s online brokers have as good a safety record as any financial institution on the planet when it comes to preventing data breaches, malware, and other types of fraud.
All that to say – your money and investments are exactly as safe with an online brokerage account as they would be with any other type of investing or banking in Canada.
You can rest easy knowing that if these brokerages ever had an internet security issue, they would most assuredly be out of business quite quickly. They have incredibly strong incentives to make sure that they have the best talent in the world working hard to keep your information safe.
Common online broker security measures include the following:
- SSL encryption
- Ultra-secure servers
- Two-step authentication process when logging in
- Automatic logout
- Regular system monitoring
Of course, it’s not just up to the online broker. You need to be cautious as well. If you are investing online (or sharing any personal information online, really), you should take the following steps to better protect yourself online.
- Install anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on your computer
- Use strong passwords that are hard to guess
- Take advantage of two-factor authentication when offered
- Always be mindful of who is around when you are entering your account information. As much as possible, this should be done when you are alone at home. If you need to step away from the computer, make sure to log out first.
At the end of the day, yes, investing online does have risks, it’s not typically seen as a risky activity. As mentioned above, there are plenty of security measures in place and procedures you should be following as well. It’s really just about being smart and cautious with your personal information.
Are Qtrade and Questrade as safe as BMO, RBC, TD, CIBC, and Scotia?
I think most Canadians understand intrinsically that the Big Banks are safe. After all, the massive banks have been around for over two hundred years, and are some of the biggest businesses in Canada. People assume that their money will be safe.
Fewer Canadians make the same assumption about our other top discount brokers.
The bottom line is that Qtrade and Questrade have all of the internet safety measures that are described above, but additionally, they have the same CIPF-insurance backed accounts that the big banks enjoy.
What is the CIPF you might ask?
The Canadian Investor Protection Fund is basically an insurance coverage the the Canadian Government created in order to protect Canadian investors in case a brokerage went bankrupt or became insolvent.
This insurance covers each investment account to $1 Million. That’s $1 Million each for your RRSP, TFSA, non-registered, etc.
So even if the company was in trouble (which it isn’t – since Qtrade for example is owned by Canadian financial conglomerate Avisio Wealth), your personal assets would still be safe – just like BMO, TD, RBC, Questrade, and any other online broker in Canada.
Now, it shouldn’t need stating, but I’m going to say it here anyway: No broker account or financial advisor can protect you against basic investment risk!
The Canadian online broker can keep your information safe from being hacked, there are steps that can be taken to minimize vulnerability to fraud, and the CIPF will protect your assets from a company that is in trouble – but there are no guarantees when you invest in stocks, bonds, ETFs, or commodities. Again, this might be obvious to you – but you wouldn’t believe the questions that end up in our inbox sometimes!
Why did we decide to rank Qtrade above its primary rival, Questrade?
- During the pandemic, our MDJ inbox was filled with a constant flow of messages complaining about Questrade’s customer service standards.
- Wait times of 4+ hours for both phone and online chat options showed what the price of the lowest fees in Canada are.
- Qtrade on the other hand has consistently held the highest standards for their customer service according to our readers, the Globe and Mail, and Moneysense Magazine. For many Canadians this commitment to customer service makes a huge difference in their trust of a company.
- Qtrade’s free ETFs represent a nice little upgrade on Questrades “free to buy – but to not sell” ETFs.
- Finally, we just think that Qtrade’s overall investor education package, combined with the app and desktop platforms they have refined give them a slight edge on what Questrade has put out there.
Qtrade isn’t the unchallenged leader in every single category – but they have no glaring weaknesses, and absolutely shine when it comes to free ETFs, elite customer service, and unparalleled access to information and education tools. See our in-depth Qtrade Review for more information, or this Questrade vs Qtrade comparison.
April 2021 Update: The newest edition of the Globe and Mail (with the help of Dalbar Canada) discount brokerage rankings just came out and once again ranked Qtrade as the best broker in Canada:
“Any broker can fill an order to buy stocks, exchange-traded funds, mutual funds, bonds and more. Qtrade helps you build a well-constructed portfolio and then monitor it to ensure it continues to work for you.” and, “They may be the king of steady year-by-year improvement.”
When they looked back at the market turmoil in 2020 and early 2021, Dalbar’s findings matched our own anecdotal evidence: Canada’s online brokers struggled with the increased demands put on their trading platforms. This confirms our own intuitive heavier weighting when it came to the customer service advantage that Qtrade enjoyed over their lower-cost competitor at Questrade.
Comparing Canadian Stock Broker Trading Fees for ETFs and Stocks
Everyone is looking for low investing fees in Canada, and there’s no doubt that online discount brokers offer the best rates relative to mutual funds and even robo advisors. But, just how much better off are you with a discount broker? Let’s take a look:
|Broker||ETF Trading Fees||ECN Fees|
|Qtrade||Free to buy or sell the top 100+||$0|
|Questrade||$0 to buy, $4.95-$9.95 to sell||$0.0008- $0.004 per trade per order|
|BMO InvestorLine||$9.95 to buy and sell||$0|
|TD Direct Investing||$9.95 to buy and sell||$0|
|RBC Direct Investing||$9.95 to buy and sell||$0|
|National Bank Direct Brokerage||Free to buy and sell||$0|
When it comes to ETFs we need to remember that even though a few of the online brokers mentioned in this article offer free ETFs to buy, you often need to pay a fee to sell. This is one area that allows Qtrade, BMO, and NBDB to really shine.
Another fee that you will want to keep in mind are ECN fees. So, what exactly is an ECN fee? ECN stands for Electronic Communication Network and these fees are essentially service charges that you will pay on your trades, although they can sometimes be avoided.
You can see from the chart above what the average price of an ECN fee is for each broker. If you’re buying and selling relatively small amounts of shares, the fee won’t add up to much. However, if you’re making large Market Orders (as opposed to limit orders) and “removing liquidity from the market” – then you might end up paying something like $2-$5 per trade on a 500 share purchase or sale.
I think it’s also worth mentioning that Canada has some of the highest investment fees in the world. A Morningstar 2017 global study compared the investment fees and expenses in 25 different countries around the world. So, where did Canada fall on the scale?
At the bottom.
We paid the highest investment fees out of all the other developed countries on this list. When you read or hear stats like that, it’s really no wonder that more and more Canadians are becoming interested in taking the proverbial bull by the horns and getting into DIY investing themselves rather than paying others to do it for them. After all, the end goal is to make money – not flush it away on unnecessary expenses such as buying yachts for mega-wealthy yacht owners..
Bottom Line: If you’re a passive investor or prefer to diversify through ETFs, you really can’t beat Qtrade’s free ETF policy. If you’re more into margin trading, or want to specialize in trading options, then Questrade is worth a strong consideration as well.
Newest Surviscor Online Brokerage Rankings
We’ll update our third party brokerage rankings as they come out in 2023, but for now the most recent Survisor Online Broker Ratings have Qtrade sitting atop the field.
After taking into consideration over 3,600 experience questions, and ranking the brokerages on 27 sub-category points, Qtrade scored an overall rating of 93%, followed by the big bank brokerages (with Wealthsimple Trade taking home the participation trophy for last place).
Glenn LaCoste, the CEO and President of Surviscor Group summed up the results of the extensive survey by saying:
2022 Globe and Mail Carrick Canadian Online Broker Ratings
Each year The Globe and Mail’s Rob Carrick releases the 2nd best (*wink*) discussion of Canada’s online brokerages. While Rob doesn’t update his brokerage ratings throughout the year like we do, he has been writing about personal finance since almost the dawn of the discount brokerage platform in Canada, so his expertise is well known.
The lede for the 2022 edition was:
“Three investment companies offered zero-commission stock trading in early 2022 and not one of them dominates the latest Globe and Mail digital brokerage ranking.”
Carrick then goes on to say:
“As has often been the case in this ranking over the years, Qtrade Direct Investing is the broker that does it best. Other brokers beat Qtrade in specific areas like commission costs, but Qtrade’s overall goodness becomes apparent as soon as you log in and find a neat little dashboard to get you up to speed on your investments.
Qtrade’s consistently strong showing in this ranking speaks to another of its virtues, constant improvement. Other brokers get better in fits and starts, while Qtrade moves ever forward.”
Even we were surprised with how closely Rob’s thoughts have mirrored our own over the past year!
The one area that Rob identified for Qtrade to improve on is analyst research. We’ve always found that analyst research is a bit overrated to be honest, but since we know Qtrade is always looking for ways to improve, we’ll go ahead and highlight this one for them.
The Best Brokers Mobile App in Canada
To be completely honest, I rarely use my online brokerage mobile app. I simply prefer to see everything laid out on my dual monitors (maybe I’m just old). That said, I’ve followed the rollout of several new broker mobile apps over the past couple years as trading from your phone has become all the rate.
Most people that I talk to tend to find that every Canadian broker app either doesn’t have all the features that they want, or find the platform has too many options and isn’t as “clean” a user experience as they prefer.
When you’re trying to pack everything in a brokerage platform on to a small screen, it can be a difficult balance to get right.
Once again we see Qtrade come out as the best Canadian online broker app, as they have yet again refined their already-best-in-class offering from last year. Qtrade’s app has the best ratings in the app store for good reason, as they offer a smooth user experience combined with the ability to view and trade from all of your accounts in a simple intuitive manner.
Read our full stock broker app comparison.
Who Should Use an Online Trading Platform?
When it comes to investing there are two categories that DIY investors need to seperate all new information into.
Category 1: Things you can control.
Category 2: Things you cannot control.
It might be surprising to most beginning investors to find out that most investors spend the vast majority of their time worrying about Category 2 than they do Category 1.
Category 2 includes things like how the market is doing on a day-to-day basis, whether a recession is coming soon, or how inflation worries will affect commodity prices. There is just no mathematical argument that you will be able to predict these occurrences with any level of consistency.
What you can control on the other hand is cutting down on the fees you pay in order to put your money to work for you. There is a reason why the people involved with investing money are rich – it’s because they’re taking your investment dollars home with them!
The best discount brokerages in Canada allow you to cut out all of the middle men and get your nest egg growing for a few bucks a month. Gone are the days of paying $30 per trade, plus 2%+ of your entire account in order to get access to the stock market.
Our top Canadian discount brokerages won’t charge you any annual fees, allow you trade ETFs for free, and have very minimal per trade commissions of $5-$8.
So, what sort of tradeoffs do you have to make in time and energy in return for cutting all those fees (which add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars for many Canadians over their investing lifetime)?
Honestly, the learning process is now very gentle. Here’s a quick primer on how to buy stocks in Canada that shows you exactly what is needed in a step-by-step fashion.
If you’re willing to spend an hour or so to setup the initial paperwork and read our how-to guide – in exchange for saving hundreds of thousands of dollars in investing fees – then using an online brokerage account is the right path for you.
Alternative to Online Brokers in Canada: Robo Advisors
I should take a second to point out that if you really want the ultimate in low-maintenance hands-off investing (like many of my friends do) then the Wealthsimple robo advisor platform has really distinguished itself from the rest of the pack when it comes to instant portfolio solutions, and is rated our best robo advisor in Canada.
You’ll pay more in fees than you would with a discount brokers account, but it is still less than 25% of what you’d be paying with a typical Canadian mutual fund. They’ll even give you $50 cash when you open an account!
Canadian Online Broker Frequently Asked Questions
What is The Best Online Broker in Canada?
Qtrade is our overall pick for the best online broker in Canada. Their combination of low prices, elite customer service, and constant innovation is simply the best in class.
That said, the best online brokerage account for YOU is the one that you are most likely to use. So if low costs are your priority, then Questrade or Wealthsimple Trade might be a better bet.
If keeping things simple and convenient by using a big bank is your preferred banking strategy, then we recommend BMO InvestorLine, with RBC and TD coming in 2nd and 3rd respectively. See our above comparison for more detailed information.
Are Online Brokers and Buying Stocks Online Safe in Canada?
Yes. If you read the section above on all of the ways online brokers keep your investments safe, then you are likely reassured that you will not be at risk of losing money to a broker’s fraud or the brokerage going bankrupt. There are very strict Canadian regulations on all of this stuff, and being a member of the IIROC, all the Canadian discount brokerages adhere to high safety standards.
Of course, we’re discussing safety from non-investment risk factors here. Please keep in mind that there nothing any investment platform can do to protect you from inherent investment risk. Your investments can obviously go down in value, and this has nothing to do with which brokerage you choose.
What is The Best Free Online Broker in Canada?
There is no free online broker in Canada. You are either paying account fees, trading fees, or the brokerage is selling your information to other companies in exchange for a $0 upfront fee. The closest ones to being free are NBDB and Wealthsimple Trade.
How Do I Open a Broker Account in Canada?
While it used to involve emailing signed documents back and forth to open a brokerage account in Canada, the last few years have seen more and more brokerages adopt online signatures in order to speed the account opening process.
It’s now easier than ever to sign up with a Canadian online broker and begin buying and selling stocks online.
You simply need to input your basic personal information (including your SIN), choose your account (RRSP, TFSA, Non-registered, margin, etc.) and then use the digital sign up for the platform. Processing times can vary depending on the brokerage and the time of year.
Read our guide on how to buy stocks in Canada for a complete, step by step guide for opening your brokerage account.
What Canadian Online Broker Has The Best Customer Service?
Qtrade consistently ranks as the best broker for customer service, followed by the big bank brokers at BMO, TD, RBC and Scotia.
Of course, it’s not easy to quantify exactly what “great customer service” looks like, but we feel confident in stating Qtrade is at the top of the Canadian brokerage rankings due to the large number of emails and comments we get at MDJ, plus our constant reviews of both Moneysense magazine’s, and the Globe and Mail’s new broker comparisons each year.
Never has customer service been more important to consumers as in 2021 as we have seen many online brokerages really struggle with 4 hours+ delays in responding to online and phone inquiries. This is one of the key reasons we decided to rank Qtade above Questrade as our overall #1 Canadian discount brokerage this year. Read our detailed Qtrade vs Questrade article for a full comparison of the two.
Which Bank is The Best For Stock Trading in Canada?
While Qtrade is our best stock trading brokerage in Canada for 2023, if you feel the need to keep your financial life simple, and stick to one of the big banks, then we recommend the BMO Investorline brokerages over its competitors offerings at TD, BMO, RBC, and especially CIBC.
What Portfolio Should I Build With an Online Broker?
If you want to prioritize simplicity, we recommend an all-in-one ETF, whereas if you want to prioritize cashflow we are big fans of dividend investing. Check out our article on the best dividend stocks in Canada for 2023 for more information.
Can You Buy Stocks on a Mobile App?
Yes, buying stocks on mobile apps has never been easier or more convenient. While I personally still prefer to use my desktop, the brokerages have been steadily improving their apps over the last decade.
Our #1 ranked mobile app for Canadian discount brokerages is Qtrade, but the major banks (TD in particular) have also poured significant resources into improving their usability over the last few years.
What is a Discount Broker Margin Account?
A margin account is simply a regular non-registered trading account with one special feature: It lets you borrow money to invest.
While some people are able to use a margin account to make large gains (with the broker’s money) in a shorter period of time, we generally don’t advise people to try this type of investing.
Statistically, you’re far more likely to lose money than gain money if you’re “trading on the margin” due to fees and basic human inability to pick stocks in the short term.
What is The Best Canadian Trading Platform for Beginners?
Qtrade. When you’re just starting out as a Canadian DIY investor you want a simple intuitive platform, low fees, access to investor education resources, and great customer support in case you make a logistical error. Qtrade simply excels in exactly those areas.
What is The Best Canadian Broker For Options Trading?
Questrade or IBKR are probably the best choices for options trading in Canada, but to be honest, options aren’t really our thing.
How Do Online Brokers Make Money?
In Canada, online brokers still make most of their money through per-trade commissions. These have been coming down in recent years (and there are even a few brokerages that have almost eliminated them entirely).
In addition to these easy-to-understand fees though, brokerages also make money by charging account fees, documentation fees, and most of all, through the forex fees that they charge if you buy stocks outside of Canada in another currency. Finally, if you keep cash balances in your account, brokerages can lend that money out like a bank does.
Day Trading Platforms in Canada
We’re not big fans of day trading at MDJ. The raw data against thinking you can outsmart the market enough to cover the increased trading costs just doesn’t exist.
That said, if you want to try your hand at quickly moving in and out of investment positions, then understanding what to look for in a Canadian day trading platform could make a pretty big difference to your bottom line.
You want to look for an online broker platform that emphasizes:
- Low per-trade fees (making use of “elite tier” pricing for people who make 50+ trades per month).
- The easy ability to use leverage – along with a relatively low interest rate on said leverage.
- The ability to trade non-conventional investment products like forex, CDRs, and cryptocurrencies.
There aren’t actually that many Canadian day trading platforms that meet these criteria. Avatrade is probably the one most geared toward hardcore traders who what to use CDRs to place daily (hourly?) leveraged bets on market outcomes. Check out our Avatrade review for more details.
We still think the Qtrade vs Questrade decision is the way to go if you’re a dividend investor or index investor who wants to dabble with a “core and explore portfolio”. Qtrade’s customer service can help smooth out any unexpected mistakes, while Questrade’s slightly lower non-ETF price-per-trade has to be more heavily weighted when you’re making several trades each day.
Again, worth reiterating here that we’re more about using online broker platforms to invest for the long term and cut fees to the bone, not to use them as day trading platforms meant to squeeze out small trading gains several times per day.
Final Words of Wisdom About Canada’s Online Brokers in 2023
As we begin 2023, I’d like to announce that we’ve entered the Golden Age of Canadian DIY investing.
Never before have we had so much competition within the world of Canadian online brokers. This has resulted in lower fees, better platforms, substantially increased customer service levels, and easier onboarding.
When combined with the innovation in Canadian all-one-ETFs, it means that investors can get access to the overall equities asset class in a much cheaper and more efficient way than ever before.
However, with great power comes great responsibility. If you’re going to be in charge of your own portfolio, then you need to be aware that there are substantial risks involved when it comes to investor behaviour. Don’t let low trading fees lure you into portfolio-destroying speculative behaviour!
As the collapse of Bitcoin, meme stocks, and high-flying tech stocks have proven over the last year, buy-and-hold strategies are still the odds-on way to have success building wealth over the long term. That’s why I remain such a big fan of Canadian dividend stocks.
Choosing the best online brokerage for your specific needs means that not only can you cut costs to the bone, but you can also choose the platform that makes it easiest for you to stick to your investment plan.
With “RRSP Season” now in full swing, you can capitalize on some excellent limited time promotional offers from Canada’s best brokerages. My current favourite is the $2,000 cash back offer from Qtrade (plus a further $50 bonus for new accounts) if you move your portfolio over to them.
Of course, as the big banks start to come out with their offers, we’ll look to continuously update our 2023 Best Canadian online broker comparison in order to keep you informed, and help you compare “Apples to Apples” when it comes to Canadian trading platforms.
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